SEPTEMBER 21 - 24, 2017

Performances

September 2010

Show includes a procession down the street
...rain or shine!


The Jazz Funeral of Stella Brooks by Terry Abrahamson at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

Jazz Funeral of Stella Brooks

by Terry Abrahamson and composer Michael Carlson
directed by Karen Lamb
musical direction by John Thomas

CTEK Arts

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Songstress Stella Brooks -- “The white Billie Holiday” -- was a personal friend of Tennessee Williams. A New Orleans style funeral in her honor begins in a storefront church with live music, testifying mourners, and an umbrella-wielding second-line dancing down Commercial Street. This new play with music is written by Chicago's Terry Abrahamson with composer Michael Carlson, directed by Karen Lamb with musical direction by John Thomas, produced by CTEK Arts, creators of  Wartime in Ptown.

Stella Brooks from Esquire Magazine

Stella Brooks,  the singing sensation of Provincetown for the summer of 1947, put over her big hits  -- “I’m a Little Piece of Leather” and “Balling the Jack” --  in a voice that swooped from smoky croak to molasses sweet. Where did this Jewish girl from San Francisco, given up for adoption when she was eight -- get those music chops?

Tennessee Williams, who was writing Streetcar Named Desire in Ptown that same summer of 1947, came to hear her sing often. They were close enough friends that his boyfriend punched her in the eye out of jealousy.  Marlon Brando was her friend, too, so was Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday. Esquire Magazine called her “the jazz-singer’s jazz singer.” Known for her acid tongue and slinky dresses, she died in 2002 at the age of 92 in a San Francisco old age home.

Chicago-based Terry Abrahamson (creator of Kama Sutra, the musical) has imagined a tribute to Stella Brooks as a New Orelans style funeral in a storefront church with live music, testifying mourners, and an umbrella-wielding second-line dancing down Commercial Street. This foot-tapping production, with original music by Michael Carlson will swing under the direction of Priscilla Sample, produced by CTEK Arts, creators of  Wartime in Ptown.

The news of Stella’s death inspired this obituary by Kelly St. John in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“In many ways, Brooks' life reads like the lyrics of a blues tune she might have sung during her heyday in the 1940s and '50s.

"Abandoned by her mother at a San Francisco orphanage, she rose from
humble beginnings to develop an avid following as an uncompromising
and talented jazz singer with a famously sharp tongue. … Brooks left
San Francisco for New York in the 1930s, after a kind trombone player
said, "You're too chic for here," and handed her a steamship ticket.

Williams wrote about her in his "Memoirs," and she counted Marlon
Brando, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and e.e. cummings among her
"buddies at the bar."

"Stella," Holiday once said of her, "is the only white girl I bother
to listen to." And for a while, Brooks was nicknamed "the white Billie
Holiday."

But life in the New York jazz scene eventually frayed Brooks' psyche... She
stopped singing in clubs and returned to San Francisco, where she watched
with resentment the careers of some contemporaries soar higher than hers
ever had.

"It's hard to have been hot -- and be nothing," Brooks admitted in an 1980 interview."

Debra Wright, Stella’s neice, helped Terry Abrahamson to the scoop on Stella’s later years. She became a barber who traveled everywhere with her scissors, kept up her correspondence with Williams and her other famous friends, enjoyed a variety of influences herself (“air-borne” Tennessee called her). She remembered her time in Provincetown that summer of 1947 as a highlight of her life.


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